Permian Death – A Time For Reflection

Sioux Nation established himself as the leading juvenile with victory in a cracking renewal of the Phoenix Stakes at the Curragh.

It’s a race that Ballydoyle have dominated, with this success bringing up an incredible 16 for trainer Aidan O’Brien. Gordon Elliott’s Beckford was defending an unbeaten record, and lost little in defeat, going down by just half a length. The winner had captured the Norfolk Stakes at Royal Ascot on quick ground, and again had conditions to suit. He swept to the front a furlong from home, before holding off the strong finishing runner-up.

Sioux Nation is a substantial unit, and clearly impressed jockey Ryan Moore, who said: “I loved him at Ascot, but I think he's got to have fast ground. At Ascot he took me into the race really easy and he did the same today. I think he's a very exciting colt. He’s bigger than Caravaggio, and I think and hope he's got a big future.”

O’Brien was similarly impressed, saying: “I think his turn of foot won it, he travels very well and quickens very well. Though he's a big horse, he's got a lot of speed. The ground would be a help and you probably wouldn't want to run him on soft. He's by Scat Daddy, like Caravaggio. I don't know if we'll stretch him to seven this year, if we did we could come here for the National Stakes and if we didn't he could go for the Middle Park (at Newmarket).”

It proved to be a weekend of vastly contrasting fortunes, with the disturbing scenes in America of three-year-old Permian breaking a leg as he crossed the line in the Secretariat Stakes at Arlington. Sending out distress signals turning for home, Mark Johnston’s gutsy colt quickly became tailed off from his five competitors. He’d clearly been feeling something, and the problem became clear as a crumpled at the post, sending jockey William Buick to the turf.

This was the three-year-old’s eighth outing in four months. And though it is impossible to say whether such a hectic campaign could have played any part in his demise, it’s surely worth debating the amount of racing the young horse had experienced between April 14 and August 12.

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This subject is sure to stir a passionate response from all sides, and people will leap to the defence of trainers and their connections, who know a lot more about their horses than I. Nevertheless, the physicality of a horse is such, that great strain is placed on those four fragile limbs. Permian had been running at trips around a mile and a half throughout this campaign, and had been asked for maximum effort in thrilling finishes on five of those eight occasions. The ground at Arlington on Saturday could not have run quicker. Rattling firm ground is not uncommon in the summer sport, but is obviously an added strain on those flimsy legs.

Of course, this tragedy could have happened to a horse on debut, or to one with relatively few miles on the clock. But it’s the intensity of the packed Permian campaign, over a relatively short period of time, that would surely have put strain on muscles, tendons and young bones. Studies at the University Of Melbourne in 2016 found that a high percentage of catastrophic injuries came about due to an accumulation of damage, rather than one singular injury. The make-up of the thoroughbred is such, that our sport will always be prone to such tragedies, and therefore apportioning blame is not the answer.

Johnston was clearly upset with some criticism he received on Facebook and Twitter, when saying: “Social media was fantastic for seeing all of the condolences coming in but there were also bastards blaming us for giving him one run too many. He wasn't even the horse who'd had the most runs in the race, and yet people latch on to him as if he'd had a huge number of runs. Aidan O'Brien's horse who finished second [Taj Mahal] had more runs than Permian, as Aidan's commonly do, because he, like me, believes in racing them.

“He was out there for everyone to see. We didn't hide him away and run him once every three months. That's what made him special in such a short space of time, and we really imagined he'd be racing on again as a four-year-old, and maybe even five.”

Johnston’s comment regarding Taj Mahal is slightly misleading. He is correct in saying that O’Brien’s colt has more career starts than Permian, but he had one fewer outing this term. And though Ballydoyle’s fella has run in good company, it would be hard to argue that he had been involved in so many epic finishes as Johnston’s gritty hero.

There’s no doubting that Mark Johnston and his team will be devastated at the loss of one of their yard. And our thoughts also go to William Buick who took a shuddering fall from the stricken horse. The racing fraternity will no doubt come under further scrutiny from the likes of Animal Aid and PETA, and as such must have as many answers as possible to tough questions raised. If those answers are not forthcoming, then research should be funded to make the sport as safe as possible for those brave creatures that run for our enjoyment and entertainment.

Much has been done to improve the image of our sport, and this work must continue, with horse welfare at the forefront. The Attached piece from Melbourne University is worth a read; Close to the bone

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